By: Michelle Fishpaw, Author of Claire's Voice
The day of February 28th will be forever etched in my memory. A life-changing event occurred on this day 22 years ago when Claire, my 11-month-old daughter, was shaken by a sitter two days before her first birthday. Against the odds, Claire survived this nightmare, which has evolved into a way of life we never anticipated.
This tragedy marked the beginning of our family’s new journey of elevating a voice for change through public advocacy and education to protect children in our community and beyond. With the sponsorship of former Ohio Senator Steve Stivers, Senate Bill 144 was passed, and then coincidentally enacted exactly eight years after Claire’s injury on February 28, 2008. The legislation provides mandatory Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) educational materials be given to parents of newborns. Under this legislation, Ohio also became the first state to begin tracking the number of cases of this preventable form of child abuse. Sen. Stivers made the decision to name the legislation Claire’s Law.
With the intent to protect young children, this legal milestone should serve as a building block to help educate the wider public on SBS, which is becoming more commonly known today as abusive head trauma (AHT). Claire’s Law is an example of how the confluence of families, medical professionals, advocacy groups, and policymakers can make a difference. Two decades following Claire’s injury, I am thankful for the leadership of Shannon Jones at Groundwork Ohio, which is building capacity to improve child care and empower family voices. When serving in the General Assembly, she also voted in favor of SB 144.
I am also hopeful that we can take an even greater step together in making a difference for families who face unforeseen circumstances, medically or otherwise. In my family’s unpredictable situation, Claire’s Law was the impetus to further help Claire find her voice. It eventually gave me the courage to write Claire’s Voice, our real-life story that is giving others a way to find their voice.
My strength comes from my two daughters, Claire and Grace, and my supportive husband, Jon. I have learned to never give up and continue to be the voice for change. By sharing our story, many have told me that our story is what every family should know. Through Claire’s encouragement, I am reminded of her words each day, “Mom, this book is going to help so many people. I know it’s taking a lot out of you, but we can never give up.” As family and close friends are aware, I chose not to omit or “sugarcoat” details, because that was never the case for us, and our family’s love and support is what still gets us through even today.
We continually seek answers to questions on how this could have ever happened and believe education as provided by Claire’s Law can help to prevent a harrowing event like this from happening to other children. For instance, the sitter raised the need to better manage Claire’s crying on her third day in the sitter’s care. Had we known inconsolable crying is a key reason why babies are shaken, we would not have returned for that fourth day of care.
The fall-out from this preventable incident is unthinkable. Claire will live the rest of her life with meaningful consequences because of one person’s action. Our children depend on us for strength and stability that will help get them off to a healthy start in life.
Whether it’s choosing child care or deciding to use school transportation for the first time, we all take leaps of faith. This feeling of uncertainty never goes away for your loved ones, especially our children. I continually impress upon others to trust their intuition, ask questions, and be the advocate that a child deserves. A single decision can forever change a life.
To this day, I sometimes ask myself, “how did this ever happen?” I am certain of one thing: I’m a different person than I was before Claire’s injury because I’ve had to be. My life is also enriched by telling our story and meeting many who have provided us with the gift of hope. It’s an offering that we all have a responsibility to give to help others elevate their voice to reach those in need and inspire meaningful change.
Michelle Fishpaw is a passionate advocate in raising awareness about child abuse and the author of “Claire’s Voice,” the true story of her family’s journey raising their daughter Claire with the long-term effects of Shaken Baby Syndrome. You can learn more about Claire’s Voice by visiting www.michellefishpaw.com or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Claire's Voice and Michelle on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.